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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considers the report of Norway

18 août 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twenty-first and twenty-second report of Norway on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Solveig Horne, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, introducing the report, said that on International Roma Day 2015, the Prime Minister had apologized for the treatment and policies of the Government, which had had fatal consequences for the Norwegian Roma during the Holocaust. The Constitution had been updated and now included a comprehensive human rights catalogue, while the independent national human rights institution had been established in April 2015, with a broad mandate for the protection of human rights. Combatting hate speech was a priority, the Action Plan against radicalization and violent extremism had been adopted, and a new comprehensive Non-Discrimination Act, which would cover all discrimination grounds, was currently being developed.

Also introducing the report, Hege Nygard, Director-General, Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, said that discrimination on the grounds of opinions or notions about a person’s race was covered by the present prohibition against ethnic discrimination. Victims of discrimination could access the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud and the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, which were low-threshold and free-of-charge alternatives to court proceedings.

Tonje Ronneberg Ruud, Special Adviser, Ministry of Justice and Public Security, also introducing the report, said that racist organizations were contrary to the basic value of the society and a threat to minorities, and they must be fought, but Norway was not convinced that their prohibition was the most efficient way. The Government was also reluctant to attach criminal liability to the sole participation in or formation of specific organizations, including racist ones.

Bjorn Olav Megard, Head of the Department of Sami and Minority Affairs, Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, also introducing the report, said that the 2009 Action Plan to Improve Living Conditions for Norwegian Roma contained measures to combat discrimination and anti-ziganism; its 2014 evaluation had shown the need to continue taking measures regarding housing, education, participation in the labour market and living conditions.

Committee Experts recalled the shocking events in July 2011 in which 77 persons, including 69 youngsters, had been killed, and said that this despicable and horrendous act had shown the dangers of extremely violent and hateful ideology. They urged the Government to undertake further analysis of the relationship between those events and racist and Islamophobic trends, and not to let right-wing extremist groups become accepted groups in a public debate. Norway should take right-wing extremist violence seriously, investigate it as hate crimes rather than portray it as unrelated and sporadic incidents, and maintain continuous vigilance against hate speech including on the Internet. Experts commended the Oslo Police which was actively working on addressing hate speech, saying that this could be an example for the rest of the country. Experts raised a number of issues of concern in relation to the Sami, including mother-language teaching and language policy, reindeer husbandry, and fisheries legislation. They said the Mineral Act 2009 failed to provide an adequate level of consultation with the Sami Parliament.

In concluding remarks, Marc Bossuyt, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, recognized the vibrant and active Norwegian civil society, including the independent National Human Rights Institution, and said that the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination should be incorporated in the Human Rights Act and be on an equal footing with all other Conventions. Everyone was in agreement that racial discrimination existed in the country, it was a concern of the Government and the Committee should support Norway in this fight.

Ms. Horne said that it was the Government’s ambition to ensure that everybody had equal opportunities and freedoms to make their own choices in life and it was therefore working to improve protection against discrimination. Many of the challenges Norway faced were common for many countries; it was fruitful to discuss them in an international context like this and Norway was looking forward to the Committee’s concluding observations.

The delegation of Norway included representatives of the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, Ministry of Justice and Public Security, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will begin its review of the combined nineteenth to twenty-first periodic report of the Netherlands (CERD/C/NLD/19-21). The country reviews can be watched via live webcast at http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.

Report

The combined twenty-first and twenty-second report of Norway can be read via the following link: CERD/C/NOR/21-22.

Presentation of the Report

SOLVEIG HORNE, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, introducing the report, said that the Government had taken steps to acknowledge the historic hardships of some of the national minorities in Norway. On International Roma Day 2015, the Prime Minister had apologized for the treatment and policies of the Government before, during and after the Second World War, and for the fatal consequences that those policies had had for the Norwegian Roma during the Holocaust. The Government had promised to make collective reparations to the Roma. The Constitution had been updated to strengthen the protection of human rights and included a comprehensive human rights catalogue; its Article 98 comprised a general prohibition of all forms of discrimination. The new Act on the National Institution for Human Rights adopted in April 2015 had created a new independent institution under the Parliament, with a broad mandate to promote and protect human rights in the country. Norway, like other countries, experienced hate crimes and hate speech; last year, 223 cases of hate crime had been reported, and most had racism as a dominating motive. The police was making good efforts to improve the registration of hate crime and the Norwegian Prosecution Authority had emphasized that violence based on religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the colour of skin were to be given high priority.

Combatting hate speech was a priority, and some of the measures taken included the adoption of the Action Plan against radicalization and violent extremism, which contained a number of measures aimed at preventing hate speech, the Council of Europe’s campaign No Hate Speech Movement was being followed up, and Ms. Horne said she was addressing the issue in a White Paper on gender equality which would be sent to Parliament this fall. In June, the Government had initiated the work on a new Action Plan against anti-Semitism. With regards to integration policy, Ms. Horne stressed that integration goals were published each year, as a part of the national budget, and that successful integration required that refugees could settle down as soon as possible in a local community. The settlement of refugees was based on agreements between the municipalities and the Government, and the number of settled persons in 2014 was the highest since 1994, and had increased almost 20 per cent since 2013. There were still challenges and over 5,000 refugees were still waiting for their new community where they would settle and integrate. In order to further develop legal protection against discrimination, Norway was working on a new, comprehensive Equality and Non-Discrimination Act, which would cover all discrimination grounds, while the annual National Dialogue Conference with minority organizations had been recently established.

HEGE NYGÅRD, Director-General, Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, said that in order to combat racism, it was important to do away with the notion that human beings could be categorized as races; using the term “race” in the wording of the Ethnicity Anti-Discrimination Act could have the effect of confirming such notions. There was no doubt that discrimination on the grounds of opinions or notions about a person’s race was covered by the present prohibition against ethnic discrimination. The Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombud and the Tribunal enforced the Act, and this was an alternative to court proceedings in cases of discrimination and was a threshold option that was easily accessible and free of charge.

TONJE RONNEBERG RUUD, Special Adviser, Ministry of Justice and Public Security, said that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was incorporated in the law through the Ethnicity Anti-Discrimination Act; it was an integral part of the domestic law and might be invoked directly before the courts. Racist organizations were contrary to the basic value of the society and a threat to minorities, and they must be fought, but Norway was not convinced that their prohibition was the most efficient way. The Government was also reluctant to attach criminal liability solely to the participation in or formation of specific organizations, including racist ones.

BJORN OLAV MEGARD, Head of the Department of Sami and Minority Affairs, Ministry of Local Government and Modernization, said that the Action Plan to Improve Living Conditions for Norwegian Roma had been adopted in 2009, and it contained measures to combat discrimination and anti-ziganism. The 2014 evaluation had shown the need to continue taking measures regarding housing, education, participation in the labour market and living conditions. The east Sami culture was in a precarious situation, and steps had been taken to support the group’s culture, including the establishment of a museum which would also act as a cultural centre, and the Government was currently ensuring a follow up on the report by the Sami Rights Committee.

Questions by the Committee Experts

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said that in July 2011, Norway and the whole world had been shocked by the killing of 77 persons, among them 69 youngsters, by Anders Breivik, a Norwegian citizen. This despicable and horrendous act had shown the dangers of extremely violent and hateful ideology. Hate speech caused great harm to society by contributing to social exclusion and increasing polarization, deterring people from participating in the democracy system, perpetuating injustice and stripping people of their dignity. The Norwegian Centre against Racism had recommended further analysis of the relationship between Breivik and racist and Islamophobic trends, and urged the Government not to let right-wing extremist groups become an accepted group in a public debate, to take right-wing extremist violence seriously, and to investigate it as hate crimes rather than portray it as unrelated and sporadic incidents. Turning to the Sami rights, the Country Rapporteur noted that the requirements for mother-tongue teaching were not being met and that there was a need for a more comprehensive language policy, more oversight of Sami training and the quality of Sami training programmes. Issues of concern included reindeer husbandry, fisheries legislation, and a ban on duck hunting during the spring season. He noted that the Mineral Act 2009 had failed to provide an adequate level of consultation with the Sami Parliament and had engendered considerable unpredictability as regards safeguards of the Sami rights.

The Government should impose on the public authorities an obligation to combat prejudices and stereotypes in the public domain experienced by vulnerable groups, in particular Roma; it should not increase the residence requirement for family reunification from three to five years; it should review the Introduction Act which aimed to impart basic skills in the Norwegian language and society, in order to harmonize its provisions with the Gender Equality Act; and to ensure a more systematic and continuous dialogue with ethnic minorities. The Rapporteur asked the delegation whether asylum-seeking minors over compulsory school age had a right to primary and secondary education, the reasons for which east Sami reindeer herding had not been re-established, the judicial statistics on hate crimes, and whether the new appeals system for immigration cases was already in force.

A Committee Expert stressed the need for a continuous vigilance against hate speech, including on the Internet, and asked whether research had been conducted into the extremist violence and massacres of July 2011 to understand how it could have happened. The Expert commended the Oslo Police which was actively working on addressing hate speech, which could be an example for the rest of the country. Employment for second-generation immigrants was a problem area which needed to be addressed. Another Expert remarked that the draft Convention on the Sami people was currently being drafted by three Nordic countries, and said the Sami also lived in Russia, which was not included in the drafting process.

On the strategy to address racism and racial discrimination, an Expert noted the explanation provided for not including the term “race” in the law and wondered how white supremacist groups could be combatted if everyone was reduced to ethnicity. Was it really possible to fight racism with anti-racist speech, when power relations were asymmetric, and those subjected to racial discrimination were doomed to losing out? Speech versus counter-speech meant that there would be some people who would be convinced by arguments offered by racists; what if the arguments of those who discriminated won in the society? Would the Government consider preparing a White Paper on hate speech and hate crimes? How was Norway dealing with the recent migrant crisis and how were public authorities planning to deal with its impact in the political and public sphere?

What steps were being taken to encourage dialogue with civil society and which structures were in place to ensure the participation of all segments of the Norwegian society, including the Sami and minorities? It was noted that 67 per cent of those seeking protection of shelters were women from minorities, and an Expert wondered how the upcoming White Paper on gender equality would address in a holistic manner issues of concern to minority women.

The delegation was asked about measures to ensure that there was no conflict between commercial interests and the rights of the Sami, and the measures in place to ensure the rights of the Sami to their cultural identity, and specifically the right to land and resources which were central to cultural identity of indigenous people.

An Expert asked the delegation to comment on the criminalization of begging and homelessness, noting that the punitive approach to poverty might not be the best, while another Expert wondered how the generic approach to racism and racial discrimination helped in eliminating racial discrimination particularly vis-a-vis visible minorities such as Africans or people of African descent.

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, said that Norway had implemented the pilot plan on combatting racial discrimination and asked about the goals not yet achieved and why.

Replies by the Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that there were three Sami languages in the Government’s Plan of Action on languages, and the aim was to increase the number of people actively using the Sami languages. The cross-border language programme was ongoing in cooperation with Finland and Russia, targeted east Sami languages, for the purpose of increasing the number of speakers. East Sami school materials were now available in Norwegian and in digital form, and some had been adapted for use in all three countries. Re-establishment of east Sami reindeer herding would require appropriation of grazing land from other Sami groups, so the Government had decided not to pursue this further.

Six minorities were recognized in Norway, based on the size of the group and their ties with Norway; the Sami were one of those but the Sami Parliament decided to opt out, so only five minorities were being mentioned.

The purpose of the free legal aid was to support those without means in pursuing issues of great personal importance. In addition to the prioritized cases, legal aid could be granted to those who had means but the issue was judged as specially pressing.

The police had been registering reported hate crimes since 2006; in 2014, a total of 226 cases had been reported, a small increase compared to 2013. The national statistics did not include data on prosecutions, sanctions and dismissal. In October this year, the New Criminal Code would enter into force which would provide a clarified procedure for the registration of hate crimes. The Oslo Police did publish comprehensive statistics on hate crimes, including on the follow up; a total of 69 complaints had been registered in Oslo in 2014. It was difficult to understand conclusions that could be drawn from the statistics, for example the greater number of reported cases might be an increase in hate crimes occurring, or better reporting as a result of awareness raising or greater trust in the police.

Concerning the financing of the Human Rights Service, the delegation said that it was important to ensure that different voices had been included in the integration debate; the Human Rights Service was vocal on the issues of forced marriage, female genital mutilation, early marriages, and the Government did not have any intention to cut the funding. The intersectionality was an integrated part of the upcoming White Paper of gender equality and would be addressed in the new Anti-Discrimination Act and the comprehensive plan on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

Replies by the Delegation

Norway was deeply concerned about the refugee situation in the Middle East and was the country that contributed most to humanitarian support in Syria and the neighbouring countries, and resettlement of Syrian refugees; in June, Norway had agreed to resettle 8,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. Norway would also increase the support for efforts in the region by allocating 25 million Euro in 2015 and 150 million Euro in 2016.

Norway was concerned about hate speech and acknowledged that more knowledge and research on hate speech was needed, together with focused work with education institutions, strengthening local cooperation with non-governmental organizations and individuals, and working actively to shape public opinion on the issue. The Ombud had recently published the report on hate speech and hate crimes which contained several recommendations on how to fight the phenomenon. The Action Plan against Radicalization and Violent Extremism had been recently launched, which consisted of 30 measures across all levels of the society, several of which targeted preventing hate speech on the Internet.

The Action Plan on Female Genital Mutilation contained 22 measures directed towards strengthening preventive measures in schools and better coordination and cooperation in public assistance. Experience gained by minority counsellors working in schools had shown that it might be misleading to focus on forced marriage only, as most of the young people who contacted them experienced strict control, fear of retaliation in the form of violence and forced marriage, and honour-related violence, and both boys and girls could be victims.

The municipalities were responsible for providing language training for the duration of 600 hours which needed to be completed within three years; the important principle of the programme was its adaptation to the needs and personal situation of an individual. Labour immigrants from outside the European Union were not entitled to free of charge language tuition, but according to the Introduction Act they still must undergo 300 hours of language training on order to obtain residency permit.

Legal protection against discrimination was vital to ensure equality. Although the term “race” as a ground for discrimination was not specifically mentioned in the Ethnicity Anti-Discrimination Act, it contained a prohibition of racial discrimination, and discrimination against someone on the basis of ethnicity, language, or colour of the skin. The Act applied to all sectors of the society, with the exception of family life and other purely personal relationships, as the prohibition against discrimination in the private sphere of life would be difficult to enforce, and other laws provided protection against violence and other forms of unjust treatment in private life. It was hard to evaluate how the implementation of the Action Plan on Equality and Anti-Discrimination had reduced discrimination against ethnic minorities. The Action Plan had not been renewed; the work was now being implemented by each Ministry in their domain, while general and specific measures targeted at specific groups had been developed, such as efforts to integrate more immigrants into labour market, or efforts against Anti-Semitism.

Concerning the welfare of Roma children, the delegation said that the Child Welfare Act applied to all children in Norway; all children had the same right to protection and care. A care order could be issued only when a child was subjected to neglect and abuse, and must be in the best interest of the child. Children taken into care were taken into foster homes; lack of foster homes and in particular foster homes of minority background was a challenge.

The unemployment rates in Norway, both for native Norwegians and for immigrants, were relatively high, when compared to other countries, but higher unemployment rates existed among groups of immigrants. Lack of relevant job skills, Norwegian language and Norwegian society and institutions were some of the challenges for immigrants. The employment policy in Norway was universal and individualist, and the priority was given to vulnerable persons and groups in the labour market, including youth at risk, immigrants, long-term unemployed persons, and persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, discrimination existed in the labour market, in particular when it came to job applications and recruitment. In terms of the pilot project for the employment of non-Western persons in 12 state enterprises, the delegation said that in general, Norway had not had positive experience with employment programmes based on the quota system, for example for persons with disabilities; approaches that provided better results included trainee programmes, support on the job training and others.

Responding to the concerns expressed by the Committee Experts about the conditions in the Tranden Detention Centre, the delegation said that the centre hosted foreigners arrested for a violation of a decision to leave the country, or in case of doubt concerning identity documents. Improvements had been made in the centre which now had 137 places, separate wings for women, unaccompanied minors and families, and all detainees had their own room with a bathroom and a television. The median duration of stay in 2014 was one day, and 20 hours for minors.

Measures to address the disappearance of unaccompanied minors from reception centres were included in the Action Plan on Combatting Human Trafficking; all cases of disappearance of unaccompanied minors were reported to the police, which considered the case with the same seriousness as any other case of missing children. The rights of illegal and undocumented migrants to health care were limited, as set out in the immigration legislation. Anyone staying or living in Norway was entitled to emergency aid, all children and expectant mothers were entitled to necessary medical care, and everyone was entitled to health care which, if postponed, would result in death.

The Government had conducted research into the history of Roma in Norway, which had found that only a few of the Roma families had survived the Second World War. The Prime Minister had issued a public apology to Roma and the Government had committed to ensure some form of reparations. A long-term strategy had been put in place to improve the living conditions of the Norwegian Roma, while the City of Oslo had employed a teacher, a Roma Guide, to act as a link between schools and Roma homes, which was a successful initiative.

The regulation of the salmon fishery was made with comprehensive consideration for the salmon stocks and the interests of the Sami culture; the environmental agency was currently preparing new regulatory measures in full consultation with the Sami. It was the responsibility of the Government to manage resources in consultation with user groups, and it also had an obligation to ensure the sustainable management of resources.

Norway had adopted the United Nations Guiding Principles on Businesses and Human Rights and was in the process of developing a National Action Plan for its implementation. Norway expected all companies to respect human rights, regardless of where they operated, and expected them to conduct human rights due diligence process.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination had not been adapted into domestic law, but it had been incorporated in the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Law; it was true that it had not been incorporated in the Human Rights Law. Still, the Convention could be invoked directly before the courts.

Questions by the Committee Experts

A Committee Expert stressed the importance of the meaningful involvement of minority women and Sami women in the drafting, implementation and monitoring of the White Paper on gender equality, and asked about the involvement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, including those from minority groups, in the drafting of the strategy to address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. It was really important to ensure that the National Human Rights Institution had sufficient resources to implement its important mandate. Racial discrimination could not be just addressed by a national action plan, but the overall holistic approach to addressing this phenomenon that such a plan provided could not be underestimated, noted the Expert and urged and encouraged Norway to consider the continuation and reactivation of the National Action Plan on racial discrimination.

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, asked how Norway ensured that any form of racism and racial discrimination showed in State policy, and what else what being done to counter racism.

Responses by the Delegation

Civil society and non-governmental organizations were included in the drafting of White Papers from the beginning, and this was also the case with the preparation of the White Paper on gender equality. Six Ministries were involved in the drafting of the Paper, which raised a number of issues of relevance to gender equality, including health, education, labour market, and violence against women. The Government had decided in June to develop the action plan on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, so it was early to comment on the preparatory process.

Parliament was in charge of allocating the funding for the National Human Rights Institution, and this year it had allocated more than one million Euro. Concerning the funding of the non-governmental organization Human Rights Service, the delegation said that it had no intention of cutting the funding. The funding of immigrant organizations was in the budget and was decided by the Parliament, while the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion provided funding to a number of immigrant organizations which were critical for the development of policy.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance had presented its fifth report on Norway in spring 2015, and Norway was in the process of follow up on its recommendations.

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert noted that throughout the dialogue with the delegation of Norway, racism was not really discussed, it was packaged under different names, most often as ethnic discrimination, and stressed that in the fight against racism, it was important to call racism by its name. Racism in political discourse summed up all problems that signatories to the Convention faced; if racism was present in the media and in public discourse, there was a serious problem and serous counter-measures had to be taken. What counter-measures was Norway planning to take? The issue was fighting and combatting racism in political discourse in a democratic manner and the Expert asked if Norway had the political will to take steps which would combat racism and which policies could it develop to combat racism in political discourse?

Responding, the delegation said that the Government of Norway, civil society and the Committee had the same goal; fighting racism and racial discrimination was an important objective, but there might be differences in chosen methods. The goal of the Government was to create more equal and just society for all.

JOSE FRANCISCO CALI TZAY, Committee Chairperson, asked about specific actions in favour of indigenous people, particularly the Sami, and remarked that traditional and ancestral knowledge they possessed was useful to the preservation of the habitat and biodiversity.

The reality on the ground was that there was a great deal of racism in Norway, said another Committee Expert, and asked about the contribution of those against the racism, what was the thrust of the efforts of non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations faced with the scale of racism in the country? What was the impact of civil society against racist policies? What was the role of the church in the fight against racism?

The delegation was asked about its plans for the celebration of the International Decade of People of African Descent, which had started in January this year, the role of the Child Ombud in combatting multiple discrimination against children belonging to minorities, refugees and migrants, and the funding for the Uncultivated Land Tribunal in Finmark County.

Responses by the Delegation

The Uncultivated Land Tribunal and the Finmark Commission suffered budgetary shortfalls, which had caused delays in the implementation of certain activities. Traditional and indigenous knowledge was very important and was always considered in decision-making. There was a long-term project at the Sami University on traditional knowledge, and one if its aims was to look into the integration of traditional knowledge in decision-making processes by public authorities. The King of Norway had apologized to the Sami in 1997, and the Prime Minister had apologized to national minorities this year.

Norway had not adopted the programme of activities for the International Decade of People of African Descent and did not have plans to do so, as it was concerned that singling out of one form of discrimination disregarded other forms of discrimination and intolerance and could weaken the fight against racism. There was no doubt that racism existed in the ground, and the Government had in place measures to address both structural and institutional discrimination and discrimination in laws.

The importance of an active, independent civil society could not be emphasized enough, and that was why the authorities had funding schemes for civil society; an active civil society was a vital and important part of the democratic system. Civil society organizations were systematically involved in the preparation of legal bills, and on reporting on Norway’s international obligations, especially to the United Nations.

Concluding Remarks

MARC BOSSUYT, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, recognized the vibrant and active Norwegian civil society, including the independent National Human Rights Institution, which would hopefully soon get the A status accreditation and the adequate funding. Mr. Bossuyt thanked the 18 non-governmental organizations for the presentation of their very useful shadow report presented to the Committee, and to the delegation of the Sami. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, like other Conventions, should be incorporated in the Human Rights Act and be set on an equal footing with all other Conventions. Everyone was in agreement that racial discrimination existed in the country, it was a concern of the Government and the Committee should support Norway in this fight.

SOLVEIG HORNE, Minister of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, said that it was the Government’s ambition that everybody had equal opportunities and freedoms to make their own choices in life and was therefore working to improve protection against discrimination. Many of the challenges Norway faced were common for many countries; it was fruitful to discuss them in an international context like this and Norway was looking forward to the Committee’s concluding observations.

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